Arizona's 7 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways
The Arizona Cardinals have a better idea of what they will do at the NFL draft now that the scouting combine has concluded. There’s plenty of time to think about it, and free agency will happen between now and then.
Last year, the Cardinals struck gold at the draft with Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington. Jonathan Cooper will get his chance to show his wares after missing last season with a broken leg. Whom could the Cardinals find who could be this year's gem of the draft?
What did the Cardinals take away from the combine? Start the slideshow to find out.
Free Agency Will Be Critical
Arizona has to make key decisions on free agents. Karlos Dansby (above) is a priority to re-sign. Kicker Jay Feely, running back Rashard Mendenhall and tackle Eric Winston are among some of the key players Arizona has to consider bringing back.
The Cardinals also have to weigh whom to pursue in free agency. Left tackle Branden Albert has been mentioned as a possible match for the Cardinals, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com. There is also the issue of who else may be cut before the start of free agency and how that impacts cap space.
NFL.com has the full list of free agents broken down by team on its site.
There are no definite indications one way or another about the status of negotiations with individual players. There are many variables in free agency, and how they play out will be key to shaping the draft strategy.
Trading Down Is a Good Idea
The Cardinals have the 20th pick in the first round, and there could be teams who want to jump up on draft day to snag the player they want. Last year, Arizona traded down twice, and it panned out spectacularly.
Arizona traded down in the second round with San Diego so the Chargers could take Manti Te’o, and it picked up a fourth-round pick in the deal. Arizona then swapped that fourth-rounder with the New York Giants, who picked quarterback Ryan Nassib. The Cardinals got back a later fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick. That sixth-round pick became Andre Ellington.
It’s not to say that something that amazing will happen again. In a deep draft, it’s something the Cardinals should give serious thought to. Trading up would be much more difficult with only six picks in the draft. Not knowing who will all be on the roster when the draft rolls around also makes trading up in the draft difficult to predict.
Weighing Team Needs Will Be Key
The key question that Arizona will have to address in the draft is this: What does the team still need after the buzz of free agency ends? After assessing those needs, prioritizing them is going to dictate which positions the Cardinals seek in which rounds.
For example, if they solve their offensive line needs in free agency, whom could the Cardinals take in the 20th spot? How are Cooper and Mathieu doing in their injury rehabs?
The other key part of the decision-making process is whom Arizona can draft to help the team win this season and who would be a building block for the future.
Those sort of things are what Arizona has to consider when it only has six picks in the draft, as of now.
April 30th Is a Big Day
Washington was arrested last year for allegedly assaulting an ex-girlfriend. The case could be decided then, and discipline from the league is possible.
The obvious reason why this is a big day is it may determine the fate of a very key player on defense. If it goes negatively for Washington, his availability for 2014 could be up in the air.
The other reason is that the court date falls a little more than a week before the start of the NFL draft. A negative outcome would rattle the team’s draft strategy and give it a little time to adjust the plan.
Could the Cardinals Go "Best Player Available?"
Bruce Arians said in an interview with Darren Urban of the team’s official website that Arizona could go with the best available player on their board, regardless of position. The remark comes around the two-minute, 30-second mark of the interview.
The big board is going to be the big key for Arizona to have draft success, and it has to make sure it gets it right.
Arizona must be flexible when it is on the clock. The best available player could be at a position the Cardinals already are comfortable with (quarterback for example). Would Arizona take the best player, or would it make the most of the 10 minutes it has in the first round to do something else?
We will find out in early May.
Pro Days Will Shape Draft Strategy
Having a large number of prospects in one place can help with influencing draft strategy. Seeing them go one-on-one in their own environment could be a bigger piece of the puzzle. It gives prospects a chance to perform if they didn’t at the combine because of injury.
Marcus Lattimore (pictured) is the perfect example of why teams attend pro days. Lattimore suffered a horrific knee injury, and teams didn't know if they wanted to take him in the draft. San Francisco did and essentially redshirted him this past season.
It gives the Cardinals a final look at players in an on-field environment. It can also play a big role on where players land on the final big board. Given that Arizona looks to go with the best player available, these pro days are very important.
Pro days start next week and run through mid-April. CBS Sports.com has a full schedule of pro days on its site.
Tight Ends May Not Be a Priority
Jace Amaro and Eric Ebron are the two top prospects at the tight end position in the draft. Both could be gone when the Cardinals come up in the first round. Arizona would have to look past them based on what Arians wants.
He was quoted on Twitter by Urban as saying he wants tight ends who pass block first and catch passes second. Amaro and Ebron are better known for their receiving prowess than they are as blockers.
Tight ends who can contribute in the passing attack can be a big help. Arians values blocking, and it’s important in two-tight end sets that the Cardinals have the right ones for their offense.
Rob Housler is the only tight end under contract heading into the 2014 season. Jake Ballard, Jeff King, Kory Sperry and Jim Dray are various levels of free agents.